HL Deb 05 March 1987 vol 485 cc718-20

3.9 p.m.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government how they reconcile their objection to the teaching of peace studies in schools with their encouragement of the dissemination of films justifying the possession of nuclear weapons by the United Kingdom.

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, the Government have consistently taken the view that the issue of war and peace should be treated in the context in which it arises, and not as a separate subject or course. This principle applies to the use in schools of the Ministry of Defence film "Keeping the Peace" in the same way as it applies to peace studies.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, quite frankly, I do not understand that Answer. Can the noble Baroness explain why the Government are apparently sending out through the Ministry of Defence a set of films defending the belief that the possession of nuclear weapons is a deterrent and are yet able to say that it is equally important that school children should be taught the various arts of peace studies, such as diplomacy, conciliation and so on? How are the two reconciled?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, the film is provided as part of a range of information that is available in the Ministry of Defence as a back-up or prop to teachers and as a school aid. If the subject arises in the natural course of a history or geography lesson, the film can be made available. It is not obligatory on schools to use it.

Lord Nugent of Guildford

My Lords, can my noble friend reconcile the apparent conflict mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Hatch, by the fact that for the past 40 years or more, since a Labour Prime Minister first equipped the country with nuclear weapons, the peace of Europe has been kept and therefore it is germane to teach all children what that rests upon. That is exactly related to peace.

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, for many years it has been the accepted practice of governments of both political parties to explain government policies, whether on defence or other aspects of public interest. This is one of the most important issues facing mankind today.

Lord Annan

My Lords, does the Minister agree that there is a distinction to be made between films and peace studies? While every school in the country would welcome a visit from the noble Lord, Lord Hatch, to express his views with his customary trenchancy and courage, would it be in the best interests of education if the noble Lord were to be slotted into the curriculum every Monday and Wednesday after morning prayers?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, as the noble Lord is frequently slotted into the House of Lords after Prayers, it may he the most appropriate time.

Lord Strabolgi

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that the great difficulty in teaching peace studies objectively is more than ever justification for the introduction of an agreed curriculum?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, yes. If I may repeat my original Answer, the issue of war and peace can arise naturally from many aspects of the curriculum. The objection which the Government have, and have always maintained, to peace studies being taught as a separate subject is that it provides a different emphasis.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the noble Baroness has answered the letter of my noble friend's Question, but she has not answered the spirit of it. Have not the Government taken great exception to local authorities, in particular Labour-controlled authorities, using public money to express controversial political views? Is it not now the case that the possession of nuclear weapons in this country, despite what the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, says, is a matter of genuine disagreement among people? Is it therefore not wrong for the Ministry of Defence to spend money putting forward one particular point of view?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, no. As I said before, it has been accepted practice for governments of both political parties to provide information. The film "Keeping the Peace" is not intended to stand alone. It provides information on the Government's policy as a contribution to an informed debate on the issues of war and peace where those issues arise naturally in the curriculum.

Lord Gladwyn

My Lords, may we take it that if peace studies are undertaken they will include not only the propagation of CND's views but also an examination of the dangers of those ideas from the point of view of the preservation of peace?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, we are not discussing how peace studies should be taught, because it has been decided that they should not be taught as a separate subject. We are discussing information supplied by a government department as an aid to the teaching of the subject in the natural course of a school curriculum.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, if the Government intend to continue with the idea of supplying that information to schools and other bodies for educational purposes, will they at least undertake not to seek to prevent other bodies providing informa-tion which may express a contrary view?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, provided that there is a proper balance, the same rules apply to whatever information is available, whether from the Government or another source.

Lord Mellish

My Lords, is it not a fact that the schools do not have to show anything if they do not wish to, and that that has been clearly understood by everyone concerned? None of us can understand what all this fuss is about.

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, I very much agree with the noble Lord.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, peace is something that sometimes happens and we all want to continue to happen. War, which also sometimes happens, is something we all want to prevent. As war studies in our universities, particularly King's College, London, have been an object of universal respect for decades, what is there against peace studies?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, there is nothing against the subject of peace being considered in schools provided that it arises naturally in the curriculum in relation to the normal studies of history and geography.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, in following the lead given by my noble friend from the front Bench, does the noble Baroness understand that the political situation has now changed? The question of the retention of British nuclear weapons is a matter of political debate. Are not the Government using public money—taxpayers' money, as they like to say—to send out films defending their point of view on nuclear deterrence but doing nothing to assist the development of peace studies? Are they not trying when they can, to obstruct those local authorities which are introducing peace studies into their schools' curricula?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, I believe that it is correct to use public funds to explain government policy, whether on defence or any other aspect of public interest. I have seen the film in question. It is extremely informative and provides a balanced picture.

Lord Mayhew

My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that there is a dividing line between conveying information and conducting political propaganda? Is she aware, for example, that in the recent government open document called Trident and the alternatives, the Government overstepped that limit and conducted grossly unfair partisan propaganda?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, I believe the film that is the subject of this Question provides information and not propaganda.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, does not the film at one point eulogise Trident, and is that not a subject upon which there is considerable political debate in this country?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, that must be a matter of subjective response. In my view, it did not eulogise; it provided a balanced picture.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that it would be a pity if any publication eulogised a rusting and out-of-date Polaris?